The thing about being in your 20s with no clear career path/goals is that in a lot of ways, it’s like getting a second shot at adolescence. I’m in the luxurious position of being in a new city, with very few obligations or responsibilities, and being able to explore, experiment, and try reinventing myself a little. I get to flail around a little figuring out who I am and what I want to do, play around and have some fun, and do it all with legal access to alcohol.
It was, in part, a celebration of leaving my day job to spend the summer focusing on writing and other artistic pursuits (and piemongering, about which, more in another post perhaps). I’ve been working since February as a corporate drone for the company that administrates Seattle’s toll roads (the 520 bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the SR167 HOT lanes, in case you were wondering, which you weren’t, but I spent 40 hours getting trained on this stuff so I am damn well going to get some use out of it). But it’s also just something that I’ve wanted to do for years and years, since I was a teenager. And having blue hair has taught me one or two things.
- Blue hair is un-ignorable. When I walk into a place where people know me pretty well — work, or my usual coffeeshop, or my sister’s birthday party — my hair is instantly the center of attention and instantly starts conversations. “Why’d you do it?” (Because WHY WOULDN’T I, it’s AWESOME.) “Did they have to bleach your hair?” (They did. It felt like my scalp was full of bees.) “Do you love it?” (Um, YES.)
- … But not as un-ignorable as you’d think. The day after I dyed my hair I ran a production meeting with a bunch of people who don’t know me too well, but had seen me earlier in the week. The reactions were split pretty evenly: several people said “I love the hair!” but several people said uncertainly “Did you change your hair?” or “Was your hair that color last time I saw you?” I think these reactions are telling, but perhaps only of how much time a given person spends around people with unnaturally colored hair.
- With great hair comes great responsibility. Or, more to the point, great responsibility to appear responsible and professional. Picking outfits for my first days of blue hair was mildly nerve-wracking; on Monday I had to run the aforementioned production meeting, which is a tricky situation already because I’m the youngest person in the room by a significant margin, and on Tuesday I had to go into my corporate drone job, where we had a very clear business casual dress code, and though I had received permission to dye my hair I was still worried I might be called into the HR office like a misbehaving high schooler. So I put on my best professional costume for the production meeting — a button-down, clean jeans, high-heeled boots, eyeliner — and my cutest, femme-ist peacock-patterned dress and suede boots for my first day back at work.
I guess they worked — nobody called me to the HR office at work or refused to listen to me at the meeting — but the whole process was interesting for how much it forced me to think about the semiotics of my style. (Hat tip to Metafashion for that phrasing.) Oddly-colored hair calls to mind a lot of different social archetypes and icons, from rocker to to punk to anime character to the Smurfs, although I would like to point out that Smurfs don’t have blue hair. Smurfette is a blonde, guys, come on.
Anyway, the main thing is that unnaturally colored hair is not associated with professionalism. It’s pretty arbitrary, really; professional women can dye their hair bright, unnaturally red or go blonde when they’re naturally brunette and not be judged on it, but blue and green and pink are frowned upon. They’re associated with careers like “musician,” “artist,” “barista,” and if you’re not reading those words with a certain disdainful sneer then I’m not using those scare quotes correctly. Obviously all those careers are legitimate, challenging, interesting careers that require high levels of professionalism and responsibility to be successful, but they’re viewed as “flaky,” unreal professions. Wikipedia even cites a few instances of people losing their jobs over dyeing their hair blue.
By dyeing my hair blue, I think I’ve put up an eye-catching flag that says THIS PERSON IS VERY YOUNG AND IDENTIFIES WITH CREATIVE COMMUNITIES. Personally, I don’t have any problem with that being the perception of me, but I am very aware that some people will have negative connotations with both “young” and “creative.” Inexperienced. Unreliable. Flaky. So it’s on me to balance my blue hair with an impeccably professional, responsible demeanor and appearance.
- Blue hair is a conversation starter, but not a personality substitute. It’s a great way to start a conversation with someone completely random — as mentioned above, people often have a lot of questions about the process, whether I’ve ever dyed my hair before, etc — but that probably won’t sustain a conversation. That’s all on me, just like my professionalism or perception thereof.
- It makes me feel like a superhero. I just really love people associated with the color blue. (I’m not including Krishna on this list, even though he is 1. blue and 2. one of the coolest deities out there, because it seems disrespectful to include him with a bunch of fictional characters.